Defendant in Eagle home heist barred from using claim

jsowell@idahostatesman.comApril 16, 2014 

Gilberto Garza Jr. and Jessica Engelhardt

The suspects in last spring's million-dollar home heist in Eagle will go on trial together, Fourth District Ada County Judge Steven Hippler ruled Wednesday.

The judge denied a motion by Jessica Engelhardt to split her case from that of her husband, Gilberto Garza Jr.

However, Hippler delayed the trail scheduled for next week. Engelhardt is set to give birth in the next few weeks and the judge reset the trial for Sept. 11.

Engelhardt was worried that she could be convicted of grand theft if a letter written last summer to the Idaho Statesman by her husband, co-defendant Gilberto Garza Jr., was introduced at trial. In the letter, Garza denied robbing the home of Richard M. Phillips, saying they had been given as a payoff from a 2008 sex abuse case involving Phillips.

Garza claimed he bought the valuables from the father of one of two teenage girls Phillips was accused of fondling and committing other sex acts with after inviting them to his home. Phillips was later acquitted of all charges.

The items taken from his home included $803,000 worth of silver bars, a 2002 Mercedes-Benz sedan, 10 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, two bronze statues, and jewelry. Garza claimed that he went to Phillips' home to claim the items.

Hippler said he would not allow any mention of that claim at trial.

Deputy Idaho Attorney General Jason Spillman, who is prosecuting the case, said Garza's claim is preposterous. He told Hippler he does not plan to introduce the letter at trial.

If the issue was raised in court, Hippler said, it could turn the jury against the victim.

"The jury could decide the case on whether they view the victim as worthy of protection," Hippler said. "That would be inappropriate."

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